The 2016 Election, #Calexit and the Next Four Years on the Left Coast

It has been one week since what is arguably the most surprising and consequential election of many of our lifetimes.  While I steer clear of partisan politics at this blog, the impact and aftermath of the 2016 Election on California’s future and identity is too large to ignore.

My own home, Orange County, went Democratic for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.  The significance of that little-known fact is difficult to fully grasp, but as a lifelong Cub fan, I think of it in these terms:  the OC Democrat drought was not quite as a long as the Cub’s World Series drought, but both streaks have now been broken, in the same month and less than a week apart.  Utterly remarkable.

shutterstock_512735062Outside of Orange County, the larger fact is that for the first time in our nation’s history, a true outsider in every sense–no prior government or military experience–has been elected as President, upending all conventional wisdom and virtually every “poll of polls” and political prognostications.

While most of the national media understandably focuses on the minute-by-minute developments in Washington D.C. and Manhattan (specifically, Trump Tower and the demonstrations outside), there is a lot brewing here in the Golden State.  In addition to demonstrations in the street, of great interest to many in California is the renewed talk of a succession, CalExit.  It’s not just a hashtag, but a real movement that attempts to put the question of sucesseion to California voters. The official Calexit website summarizes the idea as follows:

In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidizing the other states to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our children.

Although charity is part of our culture, when you consider that California’s infrastructure is falling apart, our public schools are ranked among the worst in the entire country, we have the highest number of homeless persons living without shelter and other basic necessities, poverty rates remain high, income inequality continues to expand, and we must often borrow money from the future to provide services for today, now is not the time for charity.

However, this independence referendum is about more than California subsidizing other states of this country. It is about the right to self-determination and the concept of voluntary association, both of which are supported by constitutional and international law.

It is about California taking its place in the world, standing as an equal among nations. We believe in two fundamental truths: (1) California exerts a positive influence on the rest of the world, and (2) California could do more good as an independent country than it is able to do as a just a U.S. state.

In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the international community with their “Brexit” vote. Our “Calexit” referendum is about California joining the international community. 

A variation on Calexit is the idea that all blue states on the West Coast plus Nevada should form a western country.  There is a long and uphill road for any of this to become a reality and lots of opposition from all quarters. Chances are the movement has no greater chance of success than “Texit.”  (But perhaps after last Tuesday, we should not count anything as an impossibility.)  It should be understood, however, that the Constitution does not provide a path for succession, and the U.S. Supreme Court has so confirmed in Texas v. White.  It thus remains to be seen what the legal significance would be even if a majority of California voted to secede.


More realistically, the 2016 Election solidifies California’s position in the country as the leading progressive experiment–the most populous state is arguably the most progressive state.  Democrats control both the Governor’s office and both branches of the State Legislature. Only a handful of mostly lesser populated states, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon and Rhode Island, are similarly controlled by Democrats.  (Republicans run the tables on 25 of the 50 states.)

Among the many fascinating dynamics to watch in the next four years will be the clashes between the Sacramento and Washington D.C., pitting not just “left” versus “right” but federal powers against state powers. These battles will test parties’ commitment to their traditional positions since the right historically favors greater power and autonomy for the states and the left favors greater federal powers. Now that the Republicans control the federal power, will a blue state like California enjoy wide latitude and autonomy in forging a different progressive path?

There are already early signs of these battlefronts in the D.C.-versus-California clash. The Los Angeles Police Chief has stated that he was no plans to alter immigration enforcement, irrespective of what President-elect Donald Trump does on this controversial issue. Similar fights are brewing on other fronts, ranging from the environmental and consumer protections and pro-business policies. Notwithstanding the many imponderables created in this election, one thing remains clear:  we won’t have difficulty coming up with interesting topics to write about at Left Coast Law.

Author: Kent Schmidt

As a Partner in the Southern California office, Kent practices in virtually all types of general business litigation, with an emphasis in unfair business practices, First Amendment litigation, defamation, trade secret litigation, class actions, product liability, securities litigation and enforcement, commercial disputes, employment law, intellectual property and Prop 65 (environmental) claims. He is an aggressive and creative courtroom advocate, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. Having spent his entire legal career at Dorsey, Kent is adept at finding the right lawyers in the firm to collaborate with in order to provide the best representation for his clients.